President-elect Barack Obama triggered a liberal firestorm Wednesday with the announcement that noted evangelical minister Rick Warren would deliver an invocation at his inauguaration.
The celebrity preacher at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., who hosted an important forum on faith with Obama and John McCain during the presidential campaign, is a best-selling author who fills stadiums with his sermons.
While liberal partisans were up in arms, some political analysts described the move as brilliant, a gesture not only to white social conservatives but an astute nod to the African-American and Latino communities, which are notably more conservative on religious and social issues than mainstream whites.
Blacks especially played a key role in supporting Proposition 8, the recently passed California ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in that state. Warren and his church also was a leader in that effort.
“… For Obama, making a statement about his inclusiveness and willingness to reach across ideological lines is more important than satisfying liberals on every issue as he has shown with his cabinet choices,’’ noted the Swamp, the political blog for the Chicago Tribune.
Liberal outrage, the post continued, “may help Obama with some centrist and more conservative voters. Also, many African American churchgoers tend to share Warren's views on social issues. So the issue is more complicated than simply right and left.”
Noted Dan Gilgoff, a religion analyst for “U.S. News & World Report:” “The selection of Warren… is an early taste of the Democrats' post-election effort to reach evangelical Americans.”
Gilgoff noted that white evangelicals supported McCain over the Democratic nominee by 73 percent to 26 percent, which for Obama represented a 4-percentage-point improvement over John Kerry's showing among white evangelicals four years earlier.
Many Democrats, however, weren’t sharing any sense of outreach. Within hours of the announcement, the liberal base of the Democratic Party – gay rights groups, abortion rights advocates, secular humanists, and a wide assortment of left-wing bloggers – were issuing press releases and filling the Internet with vitriol.
A sampling: People for the American Way: “He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.”Sarah Posner, columnist for the liberal “Nation” magazine: ”Now it has officially gone too far: Democrats, in their zeal to appear friendly to evangelical voters, have chosen celebrity preacher and best-selling author Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration.”Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights campaign: "By inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you (Obama) have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table." California gay rights activist Rick Jacobs: ““It’s a huge mistake. He’s really the wrong person to lead the president into office.”Gawker.com: “Warren is a largely inoffensive figure, except as yet one more in a long and historic line of American Huckster Ministers, but he's still a right-wing crank in mainstream clothing, like Mike Huckabee.”
Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Obama, defended the choice of Warren, saying to CNN, "This is going to be the most inclusive, open, accessible inauguration in American history."
"The president-elect certainly disagrees with him on [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] issues. But it has always been his goal to find common ground with people with whom you may disagree on some issues."
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